Saturday, September 26, 2015

Greg Heffley: Super Villain?

     Why do so many parents hate Greg Heffley?  Especially when he's the reason their reluctant reader - finally! - has a book in his hands?

     In 2004, Jeff Kinney took advantage of a simple truth that remedial reading teachers had long known:  Some middle school readers just aren't ready to give up the large text, the illustrations, and that all-important white-space in the books they choose.  

     I will never forget the day I was doing morning hall duty and noticed a former student sitting and reading quietly.  Thrilled to see a book in her hands, I said, "Kayla, it's so great to see you reading!  What have you got there?"

     During the course of our conversation, Kayla revealed that she had "hated to read" until I told her it was okay to read books with large text in them [even though she was in middle school].  She started to check out those books again -- "and now I love to read."

     Shortly thereafter, Greg Heffley was born, and reading teachers everywhere sent up a silent prayer of thanks (right after tearing out their hair for not creating him themselves).  And because, in publishing, no good idea ever goes uncopied, scads of similarly formatted books soon became available to kids who had given up on reading.

      Over the past decade, I've been surprised by a number of well-meaning parents who have admitted to taking Diary of a Wimpy Kid books out of their children's hands.  Why?  Because they're "baby books," not the kind of book their kid "should" be reading.

     Here's what they don't know:  The Lexile range for on grade-level readers in the eighth grade is 900 - 999.   A recent search at produced what, for many, would be a shocking revelation:  Six of the nine Wimpy Kid books are written at or above a Lexile level of 1000.

            1000 Lexile                              1000 Lexile                          1010 Lexile

          1020 Lexile                                  1060 Lexile                         1060 Lexile

     In other words, middle schoolers who enjoy the antics of Greg Heffley, et al, are more often than not reading above grade level!

     Throughout generations, "old wives" have admonished their children, "Don't judge a book by its cover!"  Because of Jeff Kinney, the adage now holds true literally as well as metaphorically.  Parents and teachers, Greg Heffley has made reading fun for kids who "hate to read."  Let's give him the respect he deserves.

Author's note:  For another look at the topic of "good" books vs. "bad" books, click this link to
                              The Mystery of the Maligned Manuscript.

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